Mulched Paths – Oh Yes!

barefoot gardener

The first permaculture book I read was “The Permaculture Home Garden” by Linda Woodrow. Back in mumblemumble 1997. I read it from cover to cover one cold weekend in bed with my first baby, those were the days. I gobbled it up. Linda made so much sense.

One thing I acted on immediately was mulched paths. What a revelation! I’ve been mulching my paths ever since, with whatever woody mulch I can get my hands on. A mixture of wood, preferably with some chunky bits in it, brings the most benefit.

Back then I loved those paths for the easy weeding (weeds through mulch are soft), and the lovely mud free working surface. Over time I’ve discovered the how important it is to encourage fungal allies in our soil, and what do fungi feast on – decaying wood. What an epic part mulched paths play here – the genesis of fungal networks that heal our soils and ensure our plants are in optimum health.

Mulched paths bring flexibilty

Drone shot of edible backyard nz

When the soil in your paths is as nourished as the soil in your bed, you’ve got room to spread your wings should you wish to fit another row of crop in. As long as you don’t have any hard edges around your beds that is.

When the soil in your paths is well nourished, your garden beds are more fertile by design. Yip the benefits are far reaching.

How to create a mulched path

prep for sawdust

Lay cardboard/ thick wet newspaper or carpet on top of the grass. If you have pernicious weeds you may wish to grub them out first.

Be pernickety with your cardboard laying – leave no gaps and go right to edges. I even go up the sides, the cardboard will break down after all. Cover deeply in mixed woody mulch or sawdust.

fresh sawdust

Some of you will worry about the sawdust blowing away. This is a possibility if you live on the edge of the Cook Strait, but I’ve never had a problem here. The mulch mats down beautifully. Sure it’s a bit fluffy when it goes on, but a bit of ironing with the wheelbarrow or stomping feet = sorted! And yes, it’ll attach to your boots until it settles in – nothing a stamp on the grass wont sort out.

Top the mulch up as required – to that end I recommend always having a pile of woody mulch on the go. It improves with age, becoming riddled with fungal threads. Best resource ever.

Plan Your Paths

Paths make up a big chunk of your garden, yet they don’t usually factor into the planning process. They should! What a difference when your garden flows naturally, tracking along your daily routes from house to greenhouse to chooks to garden to driveway – look for the wear in the grass and make your paths there. And make them curved – no one turns a corner in a right angle!

When creating paths in the vegie garden, keep them as narrow as you can to give the most space to the beds, but not too narrow that they’re uncomfortable.
I like a central wheelbarrow path with narrow walking paths coming off it. the joy of mulched paths is their flexibilty – its super easy to change them up and turn path into bed or vice versa.


  1. Thanks Kath! I too started with Linda Woodrow and I too have wood-mulched paths! Only way to go. And cardboard is great base. (Also loved by worms and alas wekas if not covered quickly…

  2. Hi Kath, this post is perfectly timed! Just creating new beds out the back in the grass, so currently have weedy grass between my beds. Wondering if I should turn the grass sods upside down before cardboard and woodchip for paths.. Or will it be ok to lay cardboard straight over the grass?
    P.S. dug up an old wrought iron Singer sewing machine up – bloody pleased I decided to double dig as is would have made a mess of my Forksta!

    • What an exciting find! So dedicated of you to double dig – it will turn that clay into beautiful friable gorgeousness toute de suite. Yes – just lay the card right on top of that grass.
      enjoy this beautiful day, Kath

  3. John Wilkinson says

    Hi Kath,

    Just wondering if Macrocarpa sawdust is suitable?
    I understand that it can be used untreated for fence posts and will last for yonks.
    Are there some tannins, or other substances, in it that stop it breaking down?

    As a young lad, back in the 50/60’s, I used to go up to the sawmill on the Brooklyn hill, in Wellington close to where the Wind Turbine now is, and gather up loads of well rotted sawdust. We would drive down Raroa Road in Highbury, look up and see the sawdust dump cascading down the hill. It was great for building up the clay soil in my Dad’s 200M2 potato patch.

    • What a great memory John. I grew up in Brooklyn too!
      Yes – mac sawdust is perfect – that’s what I use, it breaks down beautifully.

  4. Jen Pudney says

    The total best thing I love about my sawdust paths, is the feeling of walking on them in my bare feet! 🙂

  5. Tracey MacDonald says

    Very timely post, I am in the process of removing the last of my lawn mainly made up of kikuyu grass. Was going for the no dig garden but find I can’t help myself and trying to remove those metres of root runs. Was going to use a smaller grade bark from the landscapers but may have to go the saw dust way.
    Have been laying newspaper, but is cardboard better?


    • Good idea with kikuyu or other persistent weeds to knock them back a bit. Mulch is so good here to soften the roots, making future weeding softer/ better. I use either cardboard or newspaper – whatever I have. Cardboard has extra legs though so that’ll always be my first pick.

    • Sue @ Murch says

      I have found cardboard better too. And a double layer is even better, helping to make sure there are no gaps for the weeds to poke their way up through. Agree that grubbing the kikuyu or couch grass first helps. I haven’t quite eliminated couch/twitch from my garden after 2 years but almost there!

      • Thanks for that Sue – yes to making sure of no gaps! A great bit of encouragement here – it seems like a never ending thing those runners grasses, but eventually after plenty of mulching and weeding them out when small, you do get on top of it. Mulch softens the runners making them peg down less, easier to weed. Improving the soil (mulching!), means the runner grass’ job is done – when it’s no longer needed it gradually fades away to minimal. There is hope 🙂